Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Port Tobacco's Christ Church

Jim Gibb and I are busily preparing the final manuscript for an edited volume on the archaeology of schools, almshouses, orphanages, prisons, an other institutions. My chapter in this volume deals with the need to understand that the history of an institution is often not tied to a single building or location. In the book I deal with schoolhouses, which were often constructed and reconstructed to meet the demands of a changing community and local, state, and federal regulations.

We've already blogged about the move of Port Tobacco's Christ Church to La Plata. The stone building was dismantled and re-erected 3 miles from its original location. But these two sites, the one in Port Tobacco and the one in La Plata, are not only the ones related to this church.

A history of the Christ Church is available on its website. Here, the first incarnation of the church is described as a log building at the head of Port Tobacco Creek, constructed in 1683. This building was replaced in 1709, although no information is provided to determine if the location had changed. This building, likely the one described elsewhere, was destroyed by a tornado in 1808. A brick church was consecrated in 1818; no mention is made as to where the congregation met for the 10 years in between. The 1818 building was demolished after it fell into disrepair and a new stone church was constructed in the 1870s and "reconfigured" in 1884. This 1884 building is the one that was relocated to La Plata, but the church that stands there now is still not the same church. A fire destroyed much of that church in 1905. Since then, additions have been constructed and repairs after the 2002 tornado were extensive.

In sum, there is the potential for five Port Tobacco Christ Church footprints to exist within the town! Each demolition event should have left a significant archaeological deposit. The question is, where were these churches located. Some may have been built on existing foundations but as the building size, shape, and construction materials changed, so would the footprint. Also, if a new church was planned, it is likely that construction on it began before the existing building was demolished.

To complicate matters, the Christ Church of Port Tobacco was not established until 1692. So the 1683 church predates this institution. To complicate matters further, the Society for the Restoration of Port Tobacco believes that the locations of the church and the courthouse were swapped after both were destroyed by a tornado, presumably the 1808 tornado. Which suggests that the foundation that was encountered under the courthouse may have been that of the 1709 church!

So, given this history of the Christ Church I am still a bit confused by this sign that stands at Port Tobacco today. It says "Old Christ Church 1692" and is in front of the "ruin" of the removed 1884 church, but points away from it. What is it pointing to? The site of the original log church? If so, it is not very specific as to where that church was located.

Isn't archaeology fun?



Jim said...

Yet another example of history being a joke played on the living.

Elizabeth McDaniel said...

Hello, Jim and all,

Is there any online site where I can keep up with the dig? I'm back home in Athens, GA, but hope to return in late summer/early fall.

Elizabeth McDaniel
(who volunteered a few days in May and June)